Jeffrey Gedatus was driving his pickup down a dimming St. Paul street Thursday evening when a woman ran frantically in front his vehicle, banged on his passenger window — and soon relayed a tale about gunshots and cocaine.
“My husband is trying to kill me!” the stranger screamed as he let her in and drove her to his home a couple of blocks away.
On the way, she said her husband shot twice but missed both times, putting two bullets in a wall of their Dayton’s Bluff home in the 400 block of Earl Street.
“She worried he might do something to the kids, but she didn’t have time, didn’t have time to get them out of there. She had to get out as fast as she could,” said Gedatus, a barber on St. Paul’s West Side.
The couple had five kids, neighbors said: four young girls, all younger than 10, and an infant boy, maybe six months old.
Once safe in Gedatus’ home, the woman called her sister, telling her that her husband flew off the handle on drugs.
“It made him crazy,” she cried.
Police qualified the early evening call as a “violent domestic.”
After a standoff in which the children were let out the front door, neighbors said officers pursued the 28-year-old husband, Phumee Lee, from the home and shot him on a street just around the corner.
Lee died at the scene.
Neighbors gave wildly divergent estimates of the number of shots fired — one said a dozen, another 30, another four or five.A woman who answered the door Friday at a home identified in court records as belonging to Lee’s parents said the family didn’t want to comment.
“I’ve been here 20 years. I never see anything like that,” said Yer Moua, whose Euclid Street driveway Lee died in, just beside a bullet-riddled recycling bin.
Three neighbors who saw the body said Lee was shot multiple times in the head and upper chest. A police dog was on top of him, before being pulled off.
“A K-9 was chewing on his neck and (expletive),” said Timothy Sanford-Bailey, who lives across the street. “There was a lot of damage to him.”
When asked whether Lee appeared conscious, Sanford-Bailey said, “It didn’t look like it. If he was, not for long.”
Ken Krieglmeier, who lives adjacent to where Lee was shot, dug a shotgun shell casing and pellets from his lawn. His wife’s car was leaking fluid, pockmarked with pellet or bullet holes.
Krieglmeier said he heard the gunshots and ran out on his front lawn to see Lee on the ground with a head wound.
“He was done,” Krieglmeier said.
Both he and Moua said they didn’t see a gun on or near Lee.
St. Paul police gave some preliminary information about the 6 p.m. incident during a press conference later that night. They noted they wouldn’t be adding anything Friday morning, as the case had been turned over to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
During the evening press conference, police said that they received a 911 call from the woman and met with her. They then went around the corner to see if the kids were OK.
Police tried calling the man to come out of the home and saw children looking out an upstairs window, according to dispatches captured by MN Police Clips. The children came out of the home and said their father had left.
As officers searched the house, police outside reported seeing a man who matched the suspect’s description behind a garage, according to the emergency radio traffic.
During the Thursday press conference, police did not detail what led officers to fire their guns. Sgt. Mike Ernster, a St. Paul police spokesman, said a gun was located at the scene, though he did not say where it was found.
“During the search, the suspect was located,” he said. “As officers contacted the suspect and at some point during this incident, shots were fired and the suspect was struck.”
A neighbor who asked not to be named said the couple moved into the Earl Street house, which was a rental, about a year ago. They moved to the East Side from the city’s Frogtown neighborhood.
“They were not the best neighbors. Constant traffic,” the neighbor said. “Every Friday, Saturday, Sunday was party time.”
While the BCA and Ramsey County medical examiner listed Lee at a Frogtown address, neighbors said he seemed to live at the Earl Street home.
The owner of the home, reached at work, declined immediate comment.
HISTORY OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Lee has been convicted of domestic assault three times, once as a felony and twice as a misdemeanor for inflicting or attempting to inflict bodily harm. His felony conviction was in 2012.
According to the complaint in that case, the felony incident occurred back when Phumee Lee and his wife, identified then as a 28-year-old woman with the initials L.C.V., were living on Lafond Avenue in Frogtown.
A witness called police and said she saw the woman “cowering in the corner of the room holding her 7-month-old child, crying and with visible red marks on her neck along with redness and swelling underneath her left eye.”
Police came to the home and interviewed the woman as Lee began yelling at her in Hmong. She said Lee got angry and started kicking her as she was driving him home and continued to assault her when they arrived, shoving her head into a closet door and punching her with a closed fist. Police observed multiple bruises and marks on her body.
The complaint also detailed what a 911 caller said they saw when the couple arrived.
“The male tried to pull the female into the house, but the female held onto the doorframe as if to keep from getting pulled into the house. The male then began hitting the female on her arms and hands to get her to let go of the doorframe. The male did pull the female into the house,” the complaint said.
The following day, the woman told police that she’d been told to leave the house.
“Lee’s parents are upset with L.C.V. because Lee was arrested for this incident. … Lee’s parents no longer want her living in their home, so she had to pack and move from their residence on Lafond,” the complaint said she told police.
The remainder of Lee’s criminal record, which dates back to 2007, also includes careless driving, use of fictitious name on a driver’s license, driving without a valid driver’s license, and a second-degree DWI. At the time of his death he was facing charges for possession of a firearm and another DWI.
As of Thursday afternoon, the BCA had not released additional details about the case, which they noted was “in the very early stages of its investigation.”
St. Paul police recently began wearing body cameras and several were on during the incident, Ernster said.
According to a new state law, body camera footage of fatal police incidents, or any incident in which an officer causes substantial bodily harm, is qualified as public information.